June 13, 2007
Maybe it should be Friday the 13th, instead of Wednesday. But more on that below.
As this morning was my last morning in Sliema and on the big island of Malta (unless plans change: more on that below) (until, that is, I return for the last night before my flight to London), I went down to Stella's and did a hurried round of email and posting. I got June 12's Travel Log entry taken care of and most of my email before heading back to Europa for a quick bite of lunch, final packing, and checking out of the hotel to make the journey to Gozo.
The bus ride from Sliema to Cirkewwa (pronounced something like cheer-keh-oo-wah) took somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. I did a bit of reading, but also a fair amount of looking out the window, since I hadn't covered most of this terrain before. A lot of the towns to the northwest of Sliema and St Julian's don't really have historical sites: they are more for sunbathing and sailing and so forth--great fun if you're in a group, not so much if you're on your own. And there is even some countryside up that direction, not unlike what I saw going to Marsaxlokk and Hagar Qim. Mellieha, near the northern end of the island, has some history, but after wearing myself out on the sluggish ride to Mdina the last time I went, I decided the Mellieha sites could wait until I was on Gozo. Easier, I figured, to take the ferry from Gozo than lumber along like a rhinoceros in a bus for 45 minutes.
So I got on the ferry at Cirkewwa, and we headed on over to Gozo. We passed Comino, which people go to mostly for the day, to swim and sunbathe, and which has a very small resident population. This is a shot from the Gozo ferry, looking over at Comino. The tower is called, I believe, Santa Marija Tower.
And here is a shot looking from the ferry across to the harbor as we approached and up onto the island. Note those high churches.
Before we go on, I'll give you a couple more shots of those churches. This one is from below, closer to the harbor, looking up this wide gully that must carry a lot of rainwater down to the sea (when it rains, that is). I have no idea how many people live in Ghajnsielem, but it can't be a lot--yet that is one big church. Notice how in this shot you can see through the 'windows' on the tower on the right. I'm guessing that must be the bell tower.
I left some of the building below this other church (on the left in the photo from the ferry), so you can see how it's up on at outcropping. I've walked past the other church close up (though I haven't been inside yet), but this one I've only seen from about this distance. I haven't got things situated here yet, in terms of the way streets run and all that. (Just like on Malta!) So even though I've passed not too far from this church, I'm not all that sure how to get to it.
Anyway, the first thing I needed to do, once I got off the ferry, was find the hostel, so I could get the 30 or 35 pound backpack off my back! I walked up the hill from the ferry, as the directions on the website stated, not sure I was going up the right hill until I asked a construction guy who told me it was just a little farther. It's a steep hill, but it wouldn't have been an inordinate climb after all the walking I've done the past month. But with that backpack loaded on my back, it was a job! I was sweating and probably very red-faced by the time I made it to the hostel. I was about 15 minutes later than the time range I had guessed at, when I emailed the hostel, and there was no one in the hostel office when I arrived. There was someone in another office on the grounds (a counseling center, maybe?) and he called for me, but couldn't ring anyone up. So I waited for 30 minutes or so till a woman showed up who works there in some capacity, but is clearly not the person who checks guests in, and she tried to find the man in question--Father George--for me. About 15 minutes later, she had tracked him down.
Father George is, apparently, a Catholic priest. I gather that retreats and things like that take place here, maybe under his guidance, and I'm not sure what else goes on here, in those offices that don't deal with hostel guests. It seems to be an odd mix of regular old hostel (I found it, after all, on hostels.com) and church retreat center. At one time it seems to have been a Catholic home for "poor and orphan boys" on the island, but a newer facility was built several decades ago to replace this one. Those of you who know me personally probably wish that I was more often at a loss for words. I don't quite know what to make of this place!
Father George showed me to a room and asked me if it would be all right. I said yes. (Here it is, after I had already unpacked to some degree.)
It has louvered windows that look out over the entrance courtyard and over the gully into the main bulk of Ghajnsielem , but no A/C. (Neither did Europe, you'll recall.) The ceiling is quite high--maybe 12 feet--and as you can perhaps tell from the photo, they are white-painted stucco. The bed (which I'm sitting on as I type) seems to be just as comfortable as the bed at the Europa. But there is no balcony over the Mediterranean (although there is a back garden area, with benches, that overlooks the Mediterranean from a distance of a half-mile maybe), and there is no TV, not even Italian TV. (There is a TV in the lobby, which a teenaged girl was watching later in the afternoon, and it was playing That '70s Show in English! But later this evening when I tried to turn it on, thinking it might be nice to watch whatever and do some reading, I couldn't get anything to show up. Maybe you have to pay it.)
Here's a shot of the bathroom.
Yep, the shower is right down the wall from the toilet and toilet paper dispenser, and there is no curtain between them (one just has to be careful not to dowse the TP), and there is no demarcation on the floor to separate the shower "area" from the rest of the bathroom. The floor slopes toward the shower corner, where the drain is, but the drain doesn't drain fast enough for water not to surround the toilet as you shower, unless you turn the water on and off between soaping up and rinsing off--which I started doing, believe me. I didn't want the water going under the door and right out into the room. Now as most of you know, I lived ten years in two different RVs, and I'm used to small and fairly primitive shower set-ups, but this one takes the cake. At least at the Europa, the shower area was about an inch lower than the rest of the floor, and there was a curtain between it and the rest of the bathroom.
But the accommodations themselves are not what leaves me, almost, speechless. (Hehehe.) Other than Father George and the two kids, I think I'm the only person here. (Now that may change by Friday night, but for the time being. . .) I sat out back in the garden a while and read and talked to George, who was remortaring a wall there. (He just said no when I asked if he'd like a hand.) When he was finished doing what he wanted to get done, he went in. When I went in a few minutes later, he was nowhere to be seen, and there were essentially no lights on anywhere in the lobby. The main front door is locked, and I think I probably can't get out of it. He had already showed me earlier how to get in, if the main front door is closed, coming through a side door on the street and wandering through the backrooms of the place till I come to the game-room. I assume I can get out the same way if I wanted to, although there doesn't seem to be any reason to. Neither Ghajnsielem nor Mgarr, where the ferry is, seem to have anything going on but a few restaurants and bars. I certainly expected more activity where the ferry docks. But apparently everyone either only spends the day here, or they get straight on a bus or into a cab and go to Marsalforn on the north side of the island, which is the most resort-y place here. (And it may be where I have to go to get wifi--if I don't have to go back to Malta proper! Wish me luck. I'm hoping there'll be something in Victoria which is only a few miles away.)
Anyway, I kind of wandered around back in the back and heard talking--either live or broadcast, I couldn't tell at first. It was broadcast, I'm pretty sure, and so maybe that is where George went. I hesitated to call out, since I don't really need anything, except maybe a little company and maybe some generic information about the island, beyond what's in the books. There is a room just around the little corner from mine, and I heard some kind of noise in there--maybe radio, maybe TV--so it may be that either the boy or the girl is staying in there, but again, I hesitated to knock, just to say, "Oh, I just wondered where everybody is."
Anyway, it's pretty dang strange. I'm just sort of here, in the room, working on the Travel Log, with the fan pointed right at me, and kind of wondering what the heck is this place? I definitely gather that they do some kind of community work, church work, something. But it's also supposed to be a hostel, that anyone can book into--and it's as dead and quiet as a closed book. I guess, in the big scheme of things, that's not so bad, but I mean, after all, I'm a guest here, I'm alone and new to the island, and I might like to chat with someone for a minute! And while I was chatting with George in the garden overlook, as he worked, I mentioned that, if I can find a telephone call center in town, I will likely check to see if one of a couple of places back on Malta has a single room vacancy and thus shorten my scheduled time here on Gozo. For one thing, I think the folks were right who suggested there's not enough to do, unless I get pretty serious about some long walks away from the towns. For another thing, I'm not sure if I can find enough food here to stay healthy and full! When I went to the "supermarket" down by the harbor, I almost went into a funk because I kept looking and looking and thinking, "There's nothing here I can eat but tuna, deli ham and cookies or chips." I finally found a container of tomato juice, but it's a one-liter container and I would have to refrigerate it after I opened it (which Father George might let me do.) I finally tracked down a couple of bottles of baby applesauce, which I may buy if I can't find something better in Victoria (the capital), which I plan to visit tomorrow. Hmmm. For supper tonight I had a can of tuna and one of those single-serving boxes of Rice Krispies, along with some water and a vitamin. And I've had some plain vanilla cream cookies just now as I worked on this posting.
It will be interesting to see what breakfast is. George told me that "we" have breakfast from 8 until 9 or so, but he didn't tell me who else would be there. Maybe "we" just means there are usually others there. I brought some single serving packets of oatmeal with me, which I can mix with hot water if there's not something that I can eat with breakfast.
So it's been an odd and interesting afternoon and evening. Maybe I will be able to get a single room back on Malta and cut my visit here short. But I'm afraid the available rooms may all be too pricey since we are coming into the high season. If nothing else, I told myself this afternoon, I can keep staying here and ride the ferry and the bus back to "civilization" every other day--if only to check email, post the Travel Log and buy some food. There are at least a number of things to do here that I can focus on for three or four days--and then maybe chalk up to "experience" my blunder in booking too many days on Gozo. It even occurred to me that I ought to call Air Malta and see if I can bump up my flight to England and get over there a little bit earlier, but I'm not sure I can afford to stay there for any longer than I've already booked.
Or who knows? Maybe I'll find a great little Internet place and a nice grocery in Victoria and things will look better tomorrow.
(PS: Don't get too worried. I'll write later about today, but things are looking up, not least because I got a booking in Valletta for next Monday and Tuesday nights (and maybe Wednesday, if there's a cancellation). Meeting the woman who fixed my breakfast this morning also helped, but basically the place I'm staying is just too strange. So I'll be here four more nights, but only 3 more full days--Friday, Saturday and Sunday--and on Monday I'll hightail it to Valletta. More with the next posting.)